Voice of the consumer: What to watch out for while holiday shopping


Now that Halloween and Election Day are over, people are starting to turn their attention to the holiday season.

AARP ElderWatch, which is a program with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, said scammers tend to capitalize on the holidays. The organization has some red flags to look out for as you do your holiday shopping.

First, if you plan to buy gift cards, make sure to inspect them thoroughly before buying. Look for any signs of tampering. Specifically, you want to make sure the PIN number on the back of the card is not visible. Also, be sure to include the receipt for the gift card when you give it as a gift. That way the recipient has proof of purchase if, for some reason, the gift card does not work.

If you do your shopping online and plan to have gifts delivered to your door, it’s a good idea to require a signature for delivery. That way you will for sure be home when the package is dropped off. Another option is to provide specific instructions for the delivery company about where to place the package, so it’s not visible from the street. This helps ensure porch pirates don’t see the package and try to steal it. You could also have a trusted neighbor pick up your package if you’re not home when it’s dropped off.

AARP ElderWatch also suggests never shop online from your phone or laptop when you are connected to free Wi-Fi in public. That’s because unsecure networks can expose your personal and financial information to criminals connected to the same network. It’s best to do your shopping from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Also, beware of scammers posing as people collecting donations for charities. Many people want to donate to a good cause during the holidays, and criminals take advantage of that generosity. Before you donate, research the charity through www.checkthecharity.com or www.charitynavigator.org. Feel free to use those resources anytime; it doesn’t just have to be around the holidays. It’s always smart to check that the charity you plan to donate to is reputable and in good standing.

AARP ElderWatch also advises people to be careful buying items from online marketplaces like Craigslist or eBay. If someone asks you to wire them funds, pay with an app or use prepaid gift cards, consider it a scam. If you are arranging to pick something up from a person selling items online, make sure you meet up in a well-lit area that preferably has cameras. Some police departments even have special internet exchange spots in their parking lots or allow people to meet inside the department’s lobby.

Remember, you can always report scams, fraud and price gouging to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The consumer hotline number is 800-222-4444. If you want to speak with someone from AARP ElderWatch, call the same number, and click option 2. That helpline is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can also visit www.aarpelderwatch.org for more information.